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Category Archives: obsessions

Gilmore Girls is a show that I watched sporadically throughout its seven year run, missing most of the first and nearly all of the last two seasons. One of the pluses about the show is that, though there are several overriding arcs that sustain the show throughout its seven year run, nothing about the individual episodes ever really strays from the general tone and format of the show; every episode will contain rapid-fire dialogue, endless pop culture references (my favorite recently-watched one involves Rory and Jess in a record store asking what Slint is, and having the apparently know-it-all clerk describe them as “grunge,” a mis-identification that actually drove me crazy before I laughed at my dead indie outrage), crazy townsfolk, and some drama between the Gilmore girls and their romantic partners at the time or the Gilmore girls and their patrician lineage in the form of Emily and Richard. In essence—and completely opposite to The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Breaking Bad, the only other dramatic shows from the oughts that I have loved—Gilmore Girls is a perfect show to watch as comfort food, out of order or in the background. It is serialized in that events which happen in one episode mean something in others, but not so much so that the minutiae in something like The Wire will be crucial in the constant build of the series.

To backtrack a bit: I had been wanting to go through this rewatch because of the fact that I missed whole chunks of the show, filling in the blanks through reruns or outright reference in other episodes (for instance, I missed the entire Max Medina debacle that occurs in season one, but knew of it because it is constantly brought up). After being excited by Parenthood because of Jason Katims (his involvement in both My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights makes him a deity in this house) and Lauren Graham (consistently robbed of an Emmy for her work as Lorelai Gilmore), I became quickly disappointed with its muddled tone and inconsistent performances, though it is a show that is certainly entertaining while not even close to being good. Graham is, as ever, one of the bright spots, and seeing her in Parenthood only made me want to see her again in Gilmore Girls—a show that was not just good, but often great. This, combined with my recent layoff (yes I am now a victim of America’s economic climate!), made Project Rewatch: Gilmore Girls a go.

This time around—and possibly this has something to do with knowing where they end up and how they get there—I find myself oddly and somewhat disconcertingly much less sympathetic with Lorelai (Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) than I am with most everyone else, including stuffy Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann, two all-time greats) and gruff Luke (Scott Patterson) and caustic Michel (Yanic Truesdale) and boring Dean (Jared Padalecki) and jerky Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and crazy Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and insane Paris (Liza Weil) and flaky Christopher (David Sutcliffe, who looks the kind of man you couldn’t resist, making it perfect casting for a show about a girl who got knocked up at 16). Certainly they are our heroines, and complicated ones at that, but when I first started watching the show some nine or so years ago, Lorelai and Rory always seemed on the correct side of things, paragons of charm and cool and twee righteousness. Not that they aren’t this go-round, but more and more I find flaws where previously I saw none. I assume a lot of this is me getting old. Lorelai, for one, is not actually a great mother. She’s a great friend for Rory, and a barrel of fun, but whether it’s regarding nutrition or letting her own personal experiences with The Good Life sabotage Rory’s apparent (if sporadic) need for it, Lorelai Gilmore should not be anyone’s model of the perfect parent. And Rory is a bundle of naivete and bad decisions, mainly concerning boys; listen, I thought Dean was a drip and totally would have cheated on him with some bad boy wannabe like Jess too, but Rory’s very real disillusionment with having a Perfect Boyfriend and her subsequent behavior makes her into a not-very-likable girl at times (believe me, I speak from experience, being somewhat of a Rory myself, especially considering she later falls for a boy named Logan Huntzberger).

All this, of course, adds a lot of meat to the show; very much in the manner of Taylor Swift songs, Gilmore Girls has much greater depth and complication than it is given credit for, easily transcending the teen entertainment cliches it is unfairly saddled with. And much of Gilmore Girls‘ greatness rears its head when it confronts the issue of class, and with it the very real, decades-felt hurt felt by both Lorelai and her parents. The friction between Emily and Richard’s high-society life and Lorelai’s suffocation from it is a constant struggle throughout the series, and it was thrilling to discover how deeply embedded in the show it always was, specifically with three exemplary episodes from the first season:

  • In “Rory’s Birthday Parties” (episode 6), Emily throws a swanky party for Rory, inviting all her new classmates who hate her and whom she hates with equal measure, causing Rory to snap at Emily in front of everyone. Contrite, she later invites Emily to the party Lorelai is giving her the next day. Initially refusing, Emily and Richard show up to the predictably crazy bash in Stars Hollow, where Emily sadly realizes that she doesn’t know Lorelai and Rory at all.
  • In “Rory’s Dance” (episode 9), Lorelai has thrown out her back while making a dress for Rory, who is attending a Chilton dance with Dean. Emily shows up to see them off, and then stays to help Lorelai. They watch old movies and attempt to eat mashed banana on toast (a meal Emily made Lorelai whenever she was sick as a kid) and come very close to bonding, until it is found that Rory and Dean fell asleep (and nothing more) and never made it home. Emily is furious about Lorelai’s parenting skills and about Rory going down Lorelai’s path; Lorelai is in turn furious that her mother doesn’t trust Rory as well as furious that her mother could be right, and says so to Rory, who in turn is furious that her mother doesn’t trust her as much as she says.
  • In “Christopher Returns” (episode 15), Christopher returns. At Emily and Richard’s for dinner, Christopher’s parents (named Straub and Francine, amazingly) lash out at the Gilmores for ruining Christopher’s future, causing Richard to defend Lorelai for perhaps the first time in his life. Lorelai attempts to thank her father, who dismisses it, still stung by how her mistakes ruined his vision of her future. Lorelai and Christopher, alone on her balcony, where they had been countless times before, have sex. He wants to marry her, but she knows that he still isn’t ready to turn the Gilmore Girls into the perfect family picture that Emily, Richard, Straub, and Francine so desperately wanted all those years ago.

It is in these episodes—in these moments—where the glossiness of indie rock quips and coffee consumption and charming small-town preciousness melt away to reveal the big truth about Gilmore Girls: family is what you make of it. Sometimes you have to make your own family, because the one you have causes untold amounts of pain. Sometimes the family you want can never happen, so you make do with the family you have. And sometimes, even fleetingly, the family you have can be the one real thing that tethers you to something other, something greater, than yourself. When you see Lorelai shouting at her mother, feeling for all the world like a pregnant, scared sixteen-year-old girl, you see a woman who, despite her best efforts, hasn’t been able to grow up. And when you see Emily shouting at her daughter, you see a woman who so desperately wants to reassure her sixteen-year-old daughter that everything is okay, even though she knows it isn’t, and for the first time in her life feels powerless. These are the moments that make the show worth watching, when Gilmore Girls approaches something very near the sublime.

Hey, remember this?

Well, Taylor Swift has now released a video for “Fifteen.” Does the look remind you of something?

Seriously y’all. Two great tastes that taste great together. I am the next Jon Hamm.

Also, new Friday Night Lights episodes start airing on October 28th. Taylor Swift’s “Platinum Edition” of Fearless will be released the day before. BEST WEEK EVER is what that will be.

Above is a picture of Taylor Swift performing at a country music festival, possibly in character for this song:

“You Belong With Me” is Swift’s third single off of her sophomore record Fearless–a record that, though she may have proven herself a pretty good country artist on her self-titled debut, shows that Swift is an even better pop star. On Taylor Swift, she hopscotched through various conventions of country songwriting, acting out a bit of vengeful female here (“Picture To Burn”), lovelorn pining there (“Teardrops On My Guitar,” such a classic country title also), with a fair dose of perky down-home good ol’ girl sentiment thrown in (“Our Song,” “Mary’s Song [Oh My My My]”). What elevates Swift’s songs beyond their traditions, however, is the quality of her songwriting craft–whether it’s in the specificity of details, the tweaking of a chorus lyric or in the subtle way she sings a line that creates an unexpected texture to the writing itself.

This kind of exceptional craft is all over the place in Fearless, and every song on here is a winner to boot. Easily my favorite thing about Swift is her dedication to being a certain kind of teenage girl–the kind of bright-eyed optimist who believes in the stories of fairy tales and reimagines Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending (“Love Story”). This naivete is all the more striking when the record takes its downward turn to heartbreak, starting with the refutation of fairy tale imagery in “White Horse” with such clarity so as to make it striking:

I’m not a princess, this ain’t no fairy tale
I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet
and lead her up a stairwell

Except for rhythmic innovation, her songwriting contains much of what I want out of pop music; while there’s a strong dedication to convention and tradition, what Swift does within the lines are charmingly fresh. Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow only wish they could write songs like these, and Swift is decades younger than they are. Even better than the heartbreak of songs like “White Horse” and “You’re Not Sorry” (in which she sounds like she’s been directed to think of whatever Jonas brother it was that dumped her), however, are the big-hearted ones like “Fifteen”–another exercise in teenage mythology that simultaneously celebrates it and tears it down–and “The Best Day,” a song so moving that, as Sasha Frere-Jones put it in his stellar New Yorker profile on Swift, it should become the official Mother’s Day song.

But to get back to “You Belong With Me” for a second. It’s already her highest charting single on Billboard‘s Hot 100, currently at #3, and I hope she finally gets a #1 single soon, especially if it means dethroning the horrible turd-filled run that the Black Eyed Peas have had with first “Boom Boom Pow” and now “I Gotta Feeling.” Why? Fearless is probably my favorite ever pop album made by a teenage girl (sorry, Fiona), and “You Belong With Me” is like a sweeter, non-grating version of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”; the fact that these two could make a song and video so thematically similar and yet one comes off as bitchy and cruel and the other comes off as sunny and adorable speaks volumes to their respective personalities.

“You Belong With Me” also takes a hackneyed teen movie concept and boils its essentials (the dichotomy of shorts skirts/t-shirts, of high heels/sneakers, cheer captain/being on the bleachers) down to a delightful 4 minutes rather than the interminable 90 which would have included, oh, Rachel Leigh Cook’s bitchface or Freddie Prinze Jr.’s non-personality. The absolute zoom on the chorus, and how Swift’s reed-thin voice manages to ride its bombast before flattening with vulnerability. And then there’s my absolute favorite moment of pop music in 2009: Swift’s audible gasp at 2:46 before breathlessly listing every lovesick reason why she’d be this dumb oblivious schmuck’s perfect girlfriend. So desperate and sad and hilarious, like much of teenage existence.

And the mere fact that she deserves it; since 2006’s “Tim McGraw,” she has had my favorite run of singles this decade with nary a #1 to show for it. Putting this in perspective, B2K has more #1 hits than Swift. One of these acts is keeping the music industry afloat, and the other is one you have never heard of. And there’d be no one more fitting to knock off the Black Eyed Peas–who represent everything that is evil and wrong with pop music–than Swift, who represents much of what is wonderful and great about it.

Also, look at that picture! Conceptual dedication and regular gosh-darned cuteness.

=


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If this song isn’t used during an incredibly moving montage full of puppy-dog eyes and closed-teeth crying at the end of Lyla Garrity’s final appearance on Friday Night Lights, I will be incredibly disappointed.

Also it is nearly embarrassing how much I love Taylor Swift’s Fearless. More articulated thoughts regarding that TK.

The past, oh, month or so has been a complete musical regression to 1991-1995 for me. A few days of Bikini Kill followed by a few days of Hole. I blame this on PJ Harvey. I was really excited about the release of her collaboration with John Parish, but A Woman A Man Walked By was wildly disappointing, and highlighted for me a lot of the criticisms that are thrown at Harvey–criticisms, by the way, I’d never really agreed with until this record. But if there was such a thing as a paint-by-numbers PJ Harvey song, they existed in appalling frequency on this record.

Part of the disappointment of A Woman A Man Walked By is due to my appreciation of Harvey and Parish’s previous collaboration, Dance Hall at Louse Point, a record I previously described as being “a less-cacophonous (though still really noisy!) Sonic Youth record except with someone who can actually carry a tune.” And then this happened, talk about kismet! Every reaction I’ve ever had about Sonic Youth can be summed up by “Bull in the Heather,” by far my favorite SY song insofar as it sounds exactly what I want out of the band (or any rock band, for that matter) while also summing up exactly what I don’t want out of that band (or any rock band).

I love the sound of Sonic Youth, and what makes me love “Bull in the Heather” is the first thirty seconds–those absolutely filthy opening notes followed by the driving riff. It is one of my favorite thirty seconds of music in the entire 1990s, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with the age I was when this song came out, but it sonically captures post-puberty adolescence: all hormonal angst and burgeoning eroticism that is mysterious and terrifying but blatantly full of desire. It’s a shame that no one in this band can sing. And any kind of aural boner I get from the music in “Bull in the Heather” is immediately shrunken by that off-key ice queen singing about thrusting. Like following the perfect ass through the crowd only to have the person turn around looking horrendous. (And that video! Thurston feeding a banana to a horse? YUCK. Though it suggests that Kim Gordon has equine features, which is correct. And teenage hero Kathleen Hanna jumping around all annoying-like! Just throw a bucket of cold water onto my groin next time, thanks)

It’s a shame about Sonic Youth’s vocals, because there aren’t too many records that sound like them in the first place, capturing that waddayacallit–art rock New York post-punk deconstruction? In a way that sounds erotic and dirty and frightening and alluring, but with someone who can carry a tune or otherwise turn their voice into a fascinating sonic component. Which is why Dance Hall at Louse Point means what it does to me, with it’s slinkily loud guitar riffs supporting Harvey’s delicious melodramatics, as well as Hole’s Pretty on the Inside. I said I was listening to a lot of Hole, right? It’s no coincidence that Kim Gordon co-produced POTI, and Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson almost perfectly capture the guitar textures and driving riffs of Sonic Youth while under the influence of grindcore before shrinking in the face of Courtney Love’s inimitable scream. I wish there was more music like this.

Remember how I said that Levi Johnston didn’t seem like a famewhore and was being PESTERED by the media when he was just a sad broken-hearted kid?

WHOOPS, what a whore. A sexxxay whore, to be sure. But going on CBS and Tyra Banks and whatever the hell else to talk about this garbage when NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT (except for me, because this is my Us Weekly stories about, uh, people from The Hills?), well congratulations you guys, welcome to Joe the Plumber land. Though I still think Levi is less objectionable than the Palin clan as well as his horrible sister and his mother who is basically Angela Collette, considering Levi is Tim Riggins.

Best thing is the CBS anchor lady saying, “He says that he will either be an electrician like everyone else in his family, or maybe all this publicity will lead to a modeling or acting gig, which he is open to.”

GAYPORNGAYPORNGAYPORN *crosses fingers and then pukes on self*

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones profiles Neko Case in concert with the release of Case’s new album Middle Cyclone. In the article, Frere-Jones makes some stunning remarks–not least of which is “Neko Case is the horn section,” one of the best descriptions of a singer that I’ve ever read. I do agree that Middle Cyclone is Case’s best record; she seems to get exponentially more mature as a songwriter, most notable in the lyrics which have quickly caught up to the quality of her voice. Every record is better than the last, and each one capitalizes on Case’s strengths as a singer and songwriter while minimizing any previous misstep. But I’d have to contend with this point, even if I agree with it on a certain level:

At first, Case’s take on country was engaging, mostly because of her voice…Without Case’s voice, the Boyfriends records would have been fairly unremarkable country-rock albums.

By the Boyfriends records, Frere-Jones means The Virginian and Furnace Room Lullaby, albums she released before singularly owning 2003’s Blacklisted. I don’t really know that this criticism works for Furnace Room Lullaby, which keeps the production that Case calls “some sort of Owen Bradley magic” of The Virginian while branching into the moodier content and sonics that inform Blacklisted (the title track, after all, concerns the narrator cremating her lover).

Part of what makes Frere-Jones’s comment stick out to me is that it is in line with what I had thought of The Virginian–Case’s debut and her least ‘accomplished’ record–when I first heard it, dismissing it as lacking any of the qualities that made Case a unique artist. A few years removed and a healthy dose of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson has made me respect the charms, however slight they may be, of The Virginian–a modest iteration of the classic Nashville sound that manages to sound aged in moonshine while still full of modernity’s swagger.

And oh yeah, there are tunes.

Not to denigrate Case’s songwriting, but she no longer writes “songs” in the classic verse-chorus-verse tradition. And that’s fine; it works for her to create the prose found in Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (“Star Witness” being her greatest example) as well as the singularly poetic lines she has crafted with increasing frequency since Blacklisted (perhaps my favorite from Middle Cyclone: the title track’s “I lie across the path waiting just for a chance to be a spiderweb trapped in your lashes”). And what makes the songs work is the strength of Case’s writing coupled with the immense power of her voice. In fact, to turn Frere-Jones’s critique on its head, I feel as if Middle Cyclone would seem like your standard unremarkable indie-folk record without Case’s voice (plus, again, her lyrical talent). Imagine also if bearded white boys sang this; the amount of acclaim would be deafening (see: those indie-folk white boy beard records that came out last year which I don’t remember).

In fact, Case’s voice dials waaaaay back on Middle Cyclone than it previously has. It is, actually, much less of a horn section than normal. This disparity has been spotlit in the past three or so weeks as I’ve revisited Case’s catalog, most judiciously listening to the two I’ve heard least: the live record The Tigers Have Spoken as well as The Virginian. It’s not a coincidence that both are consisted of roughly half-originals and half-covers each. What is great about Tigers is how remarkably fun the whole thing sounds; it’s good to hear Case (armed with secret weapon The Sadies) take songs by the Shangri-Las and Loretta Lynn and the Nervous Eaters and make them her own. Case has an almost unparalleled ability to improve upon originals for the simple fact of her voice and her enthusiasm.

She does this tremendously on The Virginian, where it is almost impossible to tell which songs are originals and which ones are covers, except for maybe the betrayal by a slightly off-key lyrical flourish (like including the word “rhetoric” in a chorus, which OUCH). “Timber” takes a simple metaphor and makes it sound as big as the song’s fallen tree; her duet with Carl Newman on “Bowling Green” must have inspired their work in the New Pornographers; “Karoline” is a rip-snortin’ performance worthy of prime Wanda Jackson. These songs are as honky-tonk and grimy as Neko Case will ever be, I fear–it is great to hear this much propulsion and energy coming out of her and her band. But she can also do justice to the heartbreak she’ll explore later in much more poetic terms, while keeping them grounded in the simplicity of “Lonely Old Lies” and “Thanks A Lot.” This latter performance is not as distant or slightly ironic as when Ernest Tubbs, God bless ‘im, sang it, but I’ll take Case’s furious longing when she wails “I’ve got a broken heart, that’s all I got.”

This is the power of Case as a singer; she takes over, and she doesn’t let go. Middle Cyclone is clearly her best record by a longshot, and it benefits from her vocal restraint (making her powerful intonations that much more impressive) while expanding her content in impressive lyrical setpieces and song structures. It is almost impossible to break this record up into songs; they feel like a full, cohesive, linked whole. One song plays and you think it is the best song on the record, until you get to the next one, until you get to “I’m An Animal,” which from then on is the single best run of songs in Case’s recorded career. With this record, Case has vaulted even further into the upper echelon of musical artists of this generation.

But damn, I’m gonna miss the horn section that existed on The Virginian and The Tigers Have Spoken.

A while back, I wrote some effusive rambling thoughts on Paranoid Park after I watched it for a second time. I couldn’t write them after the first time, because I was too discombobulated and entranced and overwhelmed by its tone and mood, and I needed to view it more critically, and figure out the WHY of reaction. Now that I did that, I can go back to drooling incoherence. I am almost never affected by a film as much as I’ve been affected by this one–I try to watch another movie but I think of Paranoid Park or put it on instead (I have had this from Netflix for about a month now; I should really just buy the damn thing). It so successfully puts me in a specific mood, I can’t help it.

The four people who read this thing aren’t likely to ever watch this movie so I’m just going to post my two favorite scenes, because they are beautiful examples of what the film accomplishes:

(ignore the, erm, Right Said Fred at the beginning of this one, as well as the Italian)

And my favorite scene in any movie since Julianne Moore at the end of Safe:

OKAY SORRY FOR GEEKING OUT.